Manuscripts and photographs pertaining to the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike from the Reverend James M. Lawson Papers are now available in Jstor to campus scholars.
On February 1, 1968, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, two sanitation workers for the city of Memphis, were crushed to death in a garbage compactor while taking shelter from the rain. Their deaths and the unsafe conditions under which they had worked paved the way for the organization of the Sanitation Worker’s Strike in Memphis, Tennessee, and the “I AM A MAN” campaign. Reverend Lawson, then the pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church, invited Dr. King to Memphis to support the workers. After an initial visit in mid-March, Dr. King returned in early April, when he would give his last sermon “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple. Early in the evening of April 4th Dr. King was shot and killed on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel by James Earl Ray. While a country mourned, the Sanitation Workers Strike continued until April 16th when an agreement was reached that guaranteed better working conditions and better wages for 1300 African American men who were employed to handle the garbage of the city of Memphis.
Photograph is from the James Squires Papers, Vanderbilt University Special Collections